The South Carolina streak came to an end last season as the Arizona Wildcats overpowered Ray Tanner’s squad en route to a national championship, booting the SEC from the spotlight of college baseball. The East is stacked again this year though, with Vanderbilt, Carolina, Kentucky, and Florida all in the top 15.
That’s not to say last year was a flop, though. The Gamecocks made another deep run in Omaha (although they saw their record postseason winning streak come to an end). The Gators made it to Omaha last year with the nation’s top seed. The Wildcats proved that they could be a baseball power, and the Commodores made it to a NCAA regional before having their season come to an end. Georgia and Tennessee both succumbed to the challenge of SEC play last season, and both programs look to bounce back this time around. Newcomer Missouri took the Big 12 Tournament title last season before dropping two of three games in the Tucson regional, dropping their first contest to eventual champion Arizona.
Now with 2012 behind us, we take a look at what 2013 has to offer from the SEC East, and we give a look at the collective SEC predictions as a conference at the very end.
No. 15 Florida Gators
(47-20, 18-12); College World Series appearance in 2012
There are some big shoes to fill in Gainesville this year behind the plate. Mike Zunino, prized prospect of the Seattle Mariners, played a huge role in getting Florida to the College World Series before the Gators were sent back to the swamp without a win, losing to South Carolina then Kent State in inglorious fashion.
Coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s squad still has plenty of competition, with a talented Gator squad pushing each other all over the field. Richie Martin is a player to watch for Florida, as the true freshman will take the field as the starting shortstop. He was a super prospect out of high school, rated the No. 3 middle infielder in the 2012 class by Perfect Game. Junior pitcher Jonathon Crawford appears to be ready to take another step forward on the bump, boasting a 3.13 ERA last season. He tallied 14 starts in 19 appearances in 2012.
(31-26, 14-15) in 2012
While the Bulldogs were carried by pitching and defense last season, Georgia failed to survive past two games in last year’s SEC tournament. Despite missing out on the NCAA tournament, eight players were drafted, including Kyle Farmer who will return for his senior campaign this year.
The key for Georgia and manager Dave Perno will be to add offense to complement the impressive defensive play from 2012, a campaign in which the Bulldogs set school records in team ERA and fielding percentage for the metal bat era. All-SEC third baseman Curt Powell is one player who Coach Perno believes is ready to take the next step and become a great player, but only time will tell for Powell and the rest of the Bulldogs.
No. 12 Kentucky Wildcats
(45-18, 18-12); NCAA Regional appearance in 2012
Kentucky came out of left field as they reached the nation’s No. 1 ranking at one point in the season. The Wildcats finished just one win away from a regular season SEC Title, surprising almost everyone around the world of college baseball. That is, everyone outside of the UK program.
Expected to contend for the SEC title again this year, the Wildcats will be led by sophomore center fielder Austin Cousino, who won 2012 SEC Freshman of the Year. The outfielder was tabbed by Baseball America as a preseason All American, and his growth should continue this year. Pitcher Corey Littrell was named the 44th-best player by College Baseball Daily for the upcoming season after winning a Rawlings Gold Glove in 2012 as the best defensive pitcher in the NCAA last season.
*(33-28, 10-14); Big 12 Tournament Champions, Regional appearance in 2012
There was a lot of uncertaintly for Mizzou after taking the trophy and bolting from the Big 12 to the SEC. The Tigers lost center fielder Blake Brown, shortstop Eric Garcia, and pitcher Blake Holovach to the MLB draft. Reliable relievers Jeff Emens and Dusty Ross graduated, leaving the Tigers without proven long-distance relievers.
The Tigers have quietly gotten better since last year, adding depth all over the field and a star on the mound in Alec Rash, who turned down a second-round draft contract from the Philadelphia Phillies. Ace Rob Zastryzny looks to be on the cusp of first-round draft status, and Eric Anderson has recovered nicely from Tommy John surgery in May. Logan Pearson and Keaton Steele are players to watch for offensively for the Tigers, as both newcomers have high upside and will get a shot to show what they’re made of.
*Includes Big 12 conference record
No. 6 South Carolina Gamecocks
(49-20, 18-11); College World Series Runner-Ups in 2012
South Carolina only had 49 wins last year. For most teams, that would be outstanding. For the Gamecocks, that’s two too few. Ray Tanner’s final team fell just short of a third consecutive national title, getting swept by a hot Arizona squad in Omaha. Over the summer, Tanner turned in his cleats for a suit and became USC’s athletic director. Michael Roth and Matt Price are gone, but that doesn’t mean that expectations have been lowered for the Garnet and Black.
Joey Pankake and Tanner English both shined as freshmen in 2012, and their development will advance this time around. LB Dantzler returns as the premier offensive weapon for Carolina, and he was named a team captain by new head coach Chad Holbrook. Young pitcher Jordan Montgomery got big game experience last year after Tanner marched him out to save the season for Carolina against Arkansas, and he allowed just three hits over eight shutout innings to keep the Cocks rolling. It’s always a good sign for a program when being a national runner up is disappointing, and South Carolina is poised for another title run in 2013.
(24-31, 8-22) in 2012
To say things got rocky on Rocky Top last season would be an understatement. Dave Serrano’s club dropped 22 of their final 26 games of 2012, failing to qualify for the SEC tournament by virtue of an 8-22 record. It doesn’t appear as though things will be much easier for the Vols this time around, as it could be another long year in Knoxville.
One bonus for the second-year coach is that Tennessee added 23 new players, so that added plenty of competition around the field, including 19 freshmen on the roster. The weekend rotation will likely include at least two freshmen, with senior Zack Godley being the only upper classman to have locked up a spot on the bump for Tennessee. Godley has been projected by the UT staff as a fifth-to-tenth round prospect for the draft this year.
No. 4 Vanderbilt Commodores
(35-28, 16-14); NCAA regional appearance in 2012
Vanderbilt has as good a shot at the national championship as anyone in the country this season. A first round exit last year hasn’t hurt the Commodores at all, as Vandy boasts the top recruiting class in the country according to Baseball America. Add that to an already experienced roster, and country music may not be the only dominant force in Nashville this spring.
Conrad Gregor was one of the top hitters in the SEC last season, posting a .328 average. As a result, Gregor was named a Preseason All American by Louisville Slugger for this go round. On the bump, junior Kevin Ziomek appears to be ready to take a step forward and become a dominant pitcher despite going 5-6 last year with a 5.22 ERA. He boasts the most experience of any returning Vandy starting pitcher, and he will be invaluable for the Commodores if they plan on making a deep run.
2013 CBD SEC East Prediction
2. South Carolina
2013 CBD SEC Conference Prediction
3. South Carolina
5. Kentucky and LSU (tie)
7. Mississippi State
8. Texas A&M
9. Ole Miss